A wildlife official in Florida said hundreds of manatees have starved to death along the state's east coast due to the algae blooms and contaminants that are killing seagrass resources they eat, The Associated Press reported.
Melissa Tucker, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s habitat and species conservation division, told the House State Affairs Committee Tuesday the seagrass population has been decimated in the Indian River Lagoon and neighboring areas.
Tucker noted that seagrass, an aquatic plant, thrives in clear, sandy water but murkier conditions have caused algae and pollutants to grow in the water, making it harder for the seagrass to survive, according to the AP.
“Our statewide death count from all sources has been higher than it’s ever been reported before,” Tucker told the committee. “This is a starvation issue. There’s not enough seagrasses that are available to the manatees.”
Tucker also said officials noticed a sharp rise in manatee deaths from December through May when sea cows usually gather in warm water.
Six hundred and seventy-seven manatees died during that span when typically only 156 perish, the AP reported.
This comes as Florida State Rep.Thad Altman (R) said it will be difficult to regrow seagrass unless the water gets cleared up, adding that manatees are now eating seagrass roots which is permanently killing the plant.
“We literally have a catastrophe on our hands,” Altman said.
Tucker added that Florida has recorded 968 manatee deaths this year, which tops the previous record of 830 deaths in 2013, the AP noted.